Boondocking is a fun and fantastic way to enjoy the best of RV camping anywhere, at any time—no electric, sewage, or water hookups required! And Michigan is rapidly becoming one of the most popular places for boondocking, with lots of great RV options both free and paid in the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula.
Read on to learn about some of the best boondocking in Michigan, along with some tips on how to make the most of your boondocking adventure!
Is Boondocking Actually Legal in Michigan?
Yes! Boondocking in Michigan is legal, and it’s particularly popular in the less densely populated portions of the Upper Peninsula. There are certain restrictions in places like business parking lots, but for the most part, you’ll find boondocking is welcomed in many parts of Michigan with little to no restrictions.
Typically, boondocking can be done in lots of different places, from open land to government-owned grounds, and in developed campgrounds at state parks, recreation areas, national forests, etc. —although you will often have to pay a fee to boondock in these developed areas. Discreet boondocking in certain parking lots and most rest areas is also fully legal in Michigan.
Top Spots for Boondocking in Michigan
Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area
You have two options for boondocking in the stunning Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area—located on the western shore of Lake Michigan—which sprawls across more than 3,000 acres of wilderness roughly two hours north of the city of Grand Rapids and offers such appeal as numerous miles of hiking trails and shoreline with opportunities for relaxing on the beach, swimming, and paddling or boating in the lake.
You may choose to go boondocking in one of the dispersed camping sites in the wilderness area of Nordhouse Dunes, which is often a popular option due to the nearness to the lakeshore and quick access to the hiking trails. Please be aware that wilderness camping sites require all campers to be self sufficient, with their own stock of water and the use of a dump station prior to arrival, as no amenities are provided.
For boondocking campers who don’t mind a nominal fee of $25 per night in exchange for some amenities, the Lake Michigan Recreation Area is available nearby, hosting a total of 102 campsites within the campgrounds and offering vault toilets and drinking water.
French Farm Lake Campground
Though offering limited boondocking opportunities with room for just 6 RV campers at a maximum length of up to 25 feet, French Farm Lake is a popular boondocking location due to its scenic beauty and peaceful atmosphere!
Located near Mackinaw City and the popular attraction of Mackinac Bridge, the campground at French Farm Lake offers great opportunities for boating, swimming, and lakeside lounging, with public beach access to Lake Michigan located just a few minutes from the campground. Because the sites themselves are relatively small and the access roads are narrow and occasionally difficult to navigate in inclement weather, it’s recommended to park and check availability and conditions before driving into the remote campground.
Nevertheless, French Farm Lake Campground’s lovely, tucked-away setting makes it one of the most popular spots overall for boondocking in Michigan!
Hovey Lake Campground
Embraced in the lush beauty of the Hiawatha National Forest in the heart of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Hovey Lake Campground is a popular boondocking spot that can occasionally be hard to stake a claim on; it hosts just 5 campsites for boondockers and campers to make use of, each one with its own fire ring and picnic table. There are also vault toilets and drinking water available on site.
Despite its small size, Hovey Lake Campground is a very well-loved location, as it’s free and has great access to Hovey Lake itself—a premier fishing spot stocked with plenty of black bass, pike, panfish, and trout. Kayaking is also a favorite pastime at Hovey Lake. If you manage to land one of the 5 spots at Hovey Lake Campground during your adventures boondocking in Michigan, you’re sure to have a memorable, peaceful time in this Upper Peninsula getaway location!
Red Bridge River Access Site
Unique among many popular sites for boondocking in Michigan, the Red Bridge River Access Site is one of the few places where you can reserve a boondocking spot at one of the drive-up sites in advance, online—no need to worry about whether you’ll have a place for boondocking when you arrive!
Located near the Manistee River, this popular site is great for a getaway, with easy access to the water being a huge bonus. It truly offers a wilderness-style feeling as well, with the nearest town, Cadillac, being nearly 30 miles away. If you’re keen for a boondocking experience without any encroachment from urban life, the Red Bridge River Access Site is the place for you. But be sure to book early—this is an extremely popular campground, and its few spots fill up quickly!
Marzinski Horse Trail and Campgrounds
One of the top spots for Lower Peninsula boondocking, the Marzinski Horse Trail and Campgrounds is tailored for equestrians, but it actually makes for a great camping spot for campers of any kind due to its remote, quiet atmosphere. Particularly popular among bikers and hikers as well, Marzinski Horse Trail and Campgrounds boasts many non-strenuous hiking trails perfect for folks of all ages, with mountain biking trails accessible as well at the Manistee Non-Motorized Trail Park, which is located within a few minutes’ drive from the campground itself.
Each of the 21 sites at Marzinski Horse Trail and Campgrounds is available for campers and boondockers alike, with the campground offering picnic tables, toilets, and drinking water, as well as hitching posts for mounts.
If you don’t mind sharing your space with horses, this is among the most accommodating spots for boondocking in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula!
Little Beaver Lake Campground
If you’re a fan of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, arguably the most beautiful spot in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, you won’t get much closer than Little Beaver Lake Campground!
For a small fee of $20 per night, you can secure one of the 8 campsites in Little Beaver Lake, which boasts the amenities of fire rings and picnic tables, potable water, and a vault toilet. You will also have access to the campground’s interpretive hiking trail, which connects with other trails nearby and eventually joins the North Country Trail.
Most importantly of all, you’ll be the closest you can get to Pictured Rocks with its stunning forestry, limestone cliffs, historic locations, and opportunities for hiking and kayaking as you take in all the beauty this gorgeous national seashore has to offer!
Things to Consider When Boondocking in Michigan
Whether you’re renting an RV camper to go boondocking in Michigan or loading up your own RV to experience the kind of camping that toes the line between rustic and glamorous, there are a few things to bear in mind that will help you make the most of your boondocking adventure.
In order to truly experience the best boondocking opportunities in Michigan, particularly at several of the top spots listed above, you will likely want to invest in a Recreation Passport. This is a must for making use of state parks, recreation areas and forests, boat launches, and more.
Fees for Recreation Passports for Michigan state residents run at $12 (if purchased with annual vehicle registration) or $17 (if purchased at a state-owned property); for non-residents of Michigan, you can purchase a day pass at $9 per park, or pay a one-time fee of $34 for the Recreation Passport which will get you into multiple parks; this may be more cost-effective if you intend to boondock at more than 5 sites.
Boondocking campers are also advised to prepare for significant insect coverage during the spring, summer, and fall months. Due to the prevalence of lakes, rivers, ponds, and other bodies of water in common boondocking areas, insects are relatively unavoidable—particularly biting insects, black flies, and mosquitos. It’s recommended that you pack along plenty of your insect repellant of choice, wear light-colored clothing which attracts fewer insects, and when boondocking, always keep your RV’s doors and windows shut or tightly screened as much as possible.
If you prefer to avoid the insects and the often relentless summer heat, you might consider boondocking in the winter; there are fantastic opportunities for ice fishing, skiing, snowboarding, and other outdoor fun, and the upside to boondocking versus camping in cold conditions is the warmth and shelter the RV provides. Boondocking can make a great alternative option for folks who love camping year-round but prefer not to be at the mercy of the elements in a tent during Michigan’s famous frozen winters.
When boondocking in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, there are two items to be particularly aware of. One is the weather: since the Upper Peninsula is exposed to water on three sides, with prevailing winds coming off of Lake Superior, this area can make for exceptionally cold boondocking. You will want to dress and pack accordingly and have a plan of action if boondocking in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during the winter, as lake effect snow can often put a frigid damper on plans.
The second item to be aware of is bear activity: while boondocking in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula will have you more likely to encounter raccoons, possums, coyotes, and other such wildlife, the Upper Peninsula is much more sparsely populated and thus makes room for a bear population of about 10,000 known bears total. It is advised to pack along some bear spray and either hang food up or keep it locked away in air-tight containers at night.
Wrapping Up Boondocking in Michigan
Feeling excited to go boondocking in Michigan at one of these top-quality spots? Make sure you’re prepared by checking out our Ultimate Guide to Boondocking in an RV!